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Experts Warn of Border Loss in Temple Win

While many Cambodians celebrated the inclusion of the Preah Vihear temple on a list of protected World Heritage sites this week, critics warn Cambodia gained a little in recognition but could lose land in future border negotiations.

"It gained a little bit because Cambodians who do not know it well will know that the temple belongs to the Khmers," said Sean Peng Se, president of the Cambodian Border Committee in France. "Thailand can claim it, but [an International Court] verdict clearly said it's Khmer, in Khmer land."

Sean Peng Se said he was concerned over future border demarcation because Cambodia had not submitted all the land surrounding the cliff-top temple in its World Heritage application to Unesco. The temple was inscribed as a World Heritage site by a Unesco committee on Monday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said border demarcation will not be affected.

Former king Norodom Sihanouk, meanwhile, issued a statement saying the "main gate" of the temple opened to Cambodia, not Thailand.

Cambodia Watchdog Council International has said the redrawing of a map for the Unesco application constituted a loss of territory.

"The borderline is clearly referred to in 1904-07 and the verdict of the International Court in 1962," said Ir Channa, secretary-general of the Council, which is based in Norway and plans to hold a conference in France on Cambodian territory at the end of July.

According to 1904 and 1907 treaties, he said, Cambodia territory reaches to about 2 kilometers from the northern steps of the temple stairs facing Thailand, farther than the 30 meters now demarked around the temple for World Heritage purposes.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the World Heritage inscription was not about borders, but about culture. The government understands the treaties, he said, but border demarcation is a separate issue.